I met for my tour at 9am at the main square. It was just me and an Austrian girl about my age. We started at the Tunnel museum. The 800-meter tunnel was built during the siege of Sarajevo to provide supplies to the city. The entrance to the tunnel during the war.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo, a little history lesson: when Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) declared independence from Yugoslavia, Serbia was pissed. There was a large number of Serbs living in BiH and Serbia wanted it for themselves. The Republic of Srpska (Serbian forces) occupied most of the city of Sarajevo for almost 4 years, from 1992 to 1995. During this time, they turned off the water and electricity lines to the city and killed more than 10,000 civilians. No one in the city was safe and it took a while for the UN and NATO to get involved. Even when they did, things didn’t get all that much better for everyday citizens of Sarajevo. Eventually in 1995, both sides signed the Dayton Agreement (of Dayton, Ohio) that declared BiH independent and forced the Republic of Srpska to withdraw. These are called Sarajevo Roses and signify a place where an attack occurred that killed at least 3 civilians. They are, unfortunately, all over the city.
During the siege, people couldn’t get out of the city and supplies couldn’t get in easily, so they built the tunnel. At the museum we got to watch videos of the building of the tunnel and its usage and even walk through about 12 meters of it. At no point in the tunnel could a normal sized person stand up straight, so they had to crouch, often with over 50 lbs of supplies on their backs. At that point though it was their only means of survival.
Then we headed to the old Olympic ski jumps. The Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo in 1984 at the height of Yugoslavia’s prosperity. The place is pretty much abandoned now, which is really sad. We got to stand on the podium though so that was cool.
After the jumps we headed farther into the mountain to explore an abandoned hotel that was built for the Olympics. It was the fanciest hotel at the time of the Olympics, but during the war was used as a hospital and barracks by the Republic of Srpska army. When the BiH army was closing in on them, they abandoned it but not before they burned it. Now all that remains is the concrete bones and lots of broken bricks and tiles. It’s quite a sight to see in the middle of a green hill. The police force uses it for active practice and to train their dogs now, so it does still serve somewhat of a purpose. The property is for sale by the BiH government for a cool €2.5 million. Apparently they think because it’s on a large plot of land it’s valuable, but I don’t think anyone will be buying it anytime soon. We ate our Borek (cheese and meat filled pastry dough) here and then explored the hotel. I loved it!
On the way back to town, we stopped on the mountain so we could see a sign that warns you about the land mines in the area. There are still hundreds of active land mines throughout the hillsides and every year a few locals die or are injured from them. They’re working on demining, but it’s a tedious process and those that do it are only paid €500-600 a month which isn’t a whole lot when you’re risking your life everyday.
The last stop was the Jewish cemetery where almost all of the tombstones are covered in bullet holes. It’s quite sobering. The cemetery is in disarray as a result of the war. Tombstones are covered in bullet holes and some have toppled over.
After the end of the tour I went back to the hostel for a little then headed back out to explore more of the city. Dinner was at this delicious place called Cakum Pakum. I read about them on a blog and then again on trip advisor. They have either pancakes (crepes) or pasta with various toppings. I ended up getting the “Mexico pancake” that said it came with chicken, corn, vegetables, cheese and spices. Sounded good to me! And it was SO GOOD! The waitress asked if I wanted it medium spicy and I said a little more than medium and it did not disappoint! It was basically a burrito and instead of a tortilla it was wrapped in a crepe. Of course I was the only person in the restaurant since I think it was a little early for dinner, but I was hungry.
I set out to find breakfast and this proved to be a challenge. No one at any of the cafes were eating and I checked a couple of the menus and they didn’t have any food. Not wanting to repeat my mistake at the “pizzeria” again I finally found a place where people were eating. I had the club sandwich- one of 3 breakfast choices- and it was good.
Then I headed to War Museum, but ended up at the Natural History Museum which was in the building before the War Museum. I made the best of it and explored the Roman artifacts and animal exhibits. Then I made my way to the War Museum. It’s clear its losing funding as it’s pretty run down which is a shame. The only exhibit they had open was the 20 year anniversary of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. While small, it was still really interesting. Especially reading about the war criminals they are hoping to ring to justice. Most of those that were put on trial were found guilty of various war crimes and are serving prison sentences around Europe.
After the museums I got lunch and took a quick nap at the hostel, then went to meet up for a free walking tour.
We learned more about the history of the city and saw the place where Franz and Sofia Ferdinand were assassinated that led to the start of WWI. We also heard the story of the assassinators, which was also quite interesting- hint: they weren’t the smartest men. Apparently the guy who actually did shoot Franz and Sofia tried to commit suicide afterwards (all part of the groups plans) by first taking half of a pill of poison. When that didn’t work, he jumped off the bridge…that is only about 15 feet above the river that’s only 2 feet deep so he just broke both legs and then was arrested.
Sarajevo is considered the city where east meets west as there are very obvious influences from both the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (west) and the Ottoman Empire (east). As a result, there are many different cultures and 4 religions (Orthodox, Christian, Muslim, Jewish) to be found in just the city center. We visited a mosque, synagogue and church which are all within 50 square yards. All of these religions and cultures had been able to live together peacefully for hundreds of years until the Bosnian war. Things are mostly good again, but some underlining resentment is still evident against the Orthodox Serbs (Republic of Srpska).
After the tour I walked around a bit more and contemplated buying some more art but eventually decided against it as I’ve already got one framed picture I’m lugging around. Then I went to get dinner at the local brewery, which actually has quite a significant place in history. During the war, the Republic of Srpska cut off the water lines to the city so citizens were left with no way to get water regularly. The brewery though has a natural spring under it and was therefore able to continue getting water, which it shares with citizens and even continued making beer. I had a beer (duh!) and chicken with vegetables that was very tasty. Then I went back to the hostel to pack and get ready for my trip to Mostar.